Human Rights lawyer Jose Molintas was interviewed yesterday by local TV host Pia Gutierrez on the Baguio City government's declaration of Candy Pangilinan as persona non grata. Part of the discussion fell on the name Igorot. Molintas explained that some natives, like the Ifugaos and the Kalingas, actually do not want themselves to be called Igorots and prefer Cordillerans instead.
The name issue is not new of course, for it has sporadically sparked spirited discussions for decades now, as documented by Gerard Finin in his 2005 book, The Making of the Igorot. And it will continue to be debated on until we mountain people do not realize that arguing over whether to call ourselves Cordillerans or Igorots doesn't really magically transform us into a greater community, anymore than changing our names by a court decree transforms our personality. The ethnic names we wear are products of historical accidents (or political machinations, if you please) and we will remain stuck or stamped with these while we live. On the other hand, what we make of our identity is our own choosing. We can choose to be called Cordillerans to avoid the negative connotations of the name Igorot, but if by our speech and behavior we are no different from the people we despise or the animals we fear, that newfangled name will bear as much stigma.
I am a Kalinga and I am not ashamed to be called one. I also call myself an Igorot and I am not ashamed to be called one. I do not need to change my ethnic name to create for myself a good reputation or to help construct a pleasing communal identity. I need only recognize what makes my ethnic name sound dreadful so I could shun it; I need only strive to live up to the values we mountain people uphold and so make a difference in my own little corner. Jose G. Dulnuan said it so eloquently:
I am an Igorot. Let me be treated as I deserve -- with respect if I am good, with contempt if I am no good, irrespective of the name I carry. Let the term, Igorot, remain, and the world will use it with the correct meaning attached to it. [quoted by Wm. Henry Scott in his essay, "The Origin of the Word Igorot," in Of Igorots and Independence (Baguio City: A-Seven Publishing, 1993), 67.]
That correct meaning will only be used by the world largely if some of us cease to be the stereotypes many outsiders have cast us in: booze-bamboozled hunks zigzagging out of some folkhouse along Magsaysay or Lakandula in the wee hours of the morning; leather-clad jeepney drivers making urinals out of roadside gardens; toothless, feathered and tailed, camera-loving grannies making brisk business at Mines View or the Botanical Garden who can't explain what their native ornaments represent; the Kalinga kawitan (lit., "rooster") who has a penchant for belligerence, threatening lowlander-neighbors with decapitation over a petty misunderstanding; and the lordly yFontok who thinks some folks are meant to be his/her footstool.
That correct meaning will only be used by the world if we live by the best qualities of the native exemplified by a host of Igorots in the arena of business (Jack Dulnuan), politics (Joe Molintas), literature (Luisa Igloria), the academe (Albert Bacdayan), showbizness (Marky Cielo), or other professional fields, as well as by a still larger number of mountaineers in the fields of our ili who live humble but decent lives.
So whether we call ourselves Cordillerans or Igorots doesn't really make much difference; dealing with the harder issues does: how our behavior and speech have helped construct Igorotness, how we should react to ill-informed statements about us, what image of the Igorot our leaders have projected, what should politicians do beyond declaring someone a persona non-grata to help ensure that outsiders become more sensitive to cultural diversity, how our schools could educate Igorots and non-Igorots alike about the checkered history of Igorots and other indigenous peoples in the country, how far have our churches gone in helping build up indigenous systems and practices, and how local and foreign media can help promote a better understanding of traditional culture.